December 29, 2010

You can’t beat good thinking and customer insight to drive communications

3 minute read

I keep reading about a brave new world in marketing. I hear we finally have the technology to join up all our customer communications and create not only a single customer view (of everything our customers are doing) but to communicate to them more appropriately through the channels they want to be communicated through and with meaningful and relevant content. Sounds great but what is the reality of what automated systems can actually deliver?

I think back to when the direct marketing industry was in its infancy and even then we were all talking this dream that one-to-one communications were finally a reality. Brands no longer needed to talk to customers in a big broadcast way but could do so on a single customer basis with personalised information. We all know that what we were really doing was talking to segments of customers who looked similar, as the technology and practicalities of print (digital didn’t even exist) meant that we could only tailor things to groups of people who exhibited similar behaviours and doing a bit of personalisation.

But I keep hearing that technology finally has the solution. We are led to believe that many of the CRM systems available can solve all of this for us and finally deliver us this vision through automating communications to a much higher degree and reducing cost to the business.

But the reality is that brands who have adopted this kind of technology (even if it can be totally adopted) still don’t necessarily get it right. Take my Christmas shopping. I tend to try and get ahead and do quite a bit online to avoid that last minute dash on Christmas Eve. I’ve therefore done rather a lot of toy shopping on Amazon. As a result of my order I’m being bombarded with suggestions of other things I might like to buy. All very good stuff one might think but when you look at what’s being sent:

  • The suggestions included things that I’d already purchased, so how is Amazon not able to take the things out that I’ve already bought?
  • And the timing of the email, I’d literally just placed an order for a significant number of gifts, before I get an email screaming “buy this and this”. As I’d placed a pretty big order I would have thought it might indicate that I’d done one big shop and was not about to go on and purchase more at that point.
  • All of the toys I’d bought were for a young boy yet I’ve actually got a lot still to get for siblings, grandparents and aunties to boot – no suggestion of gifts for them.

It’s no wonder then that a Forrester report in 2009 showed that only 7% of consumers think the email communications they receive are relevant and only 10% of those receiving direct mail think so. Automation is great in certain instances but it can’t factor in consumer insight. Data is only as good as the marketing people interpreting it and the communications have to be based on that insight.

Take another example where they get it right. I was looking at a dress recently on a well-known high street retailer’s site. I went back and looked at it several times. Now whenever I go online there are appropriately placed banners with similar style dresses, always there, always in the background when I’m browsing.

This particular example of automation works. Whilst we know there’s a complex algorithm behind this that has worked out if a customer looks at one thing online they might also go on to buy a series of other related items. It also works because it is not overt, there’s something subtle about gently reminding me the dress is there.

The challenge with data in this increasingly labyrinthine world where brands reach consumers in so many different places is not just having the single customer view but what you do with all that information. All the technology in the world will only ever help you drive some efficiencies. Ultimately it is still about using that data intelligently and deriving customer insight that helps you drive communications accordingly. This needs smart, down to earth marketing people who know what to look for and what to do about it. For most automated responses will always look simply automated and that’s fine for certain communications but not all. And as consumers become increasingly sophisticated (as they continually do) doesn’t this just look a bit shallow and not very focused on me!

There are some good CRM systems now that really can join up my online, offline, in-store and mobile communications but once you have a single customer view don’t squander it. It is a wasted brand message that only shows the consumer you’ve sent an automated message without really understanding their needs and desires as a consumer and their interactions with your brand. And you can’t automate insightful thinking. Data insight should always sit at the heart of what we do and find the relevant pieces of information that help to formulate communications that are getting to the right person, at the right time, through the right channel and with the right message.

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You can’t beat good thinking and customer insight to drive communications